Why Jarrett ‘Sparky’ Stidham should start for Broncos in Week 1 — over Bo Nix | Mark Kiszla

Jarrett “Sparky” Stidham hasn’t done jack as an NFL quarterback, but right now he’s got more game than ballyhooed top draft-pick Bo Nix.

We hold this truth to be self-evident to anyone with eyes, including Broncos coach Sean Payton, who gambled his reputation and the team’s future by reaching to draft Nix with the 12th pick in the first round.

Who’s the starting quarterback for Denver when the team takes the field Sept. 8 in Seattle for the NFL season opener and a new era for Broncos football destined to be defined by Nix?

Well, nearly 90 long days remain before Payton has to make a choice based on what he insists will be a gut feeling.

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“Oftentimes the decisions take care of themselves,” Payton said. “The objective is to win. … In our league, it’s year to year. Man, we’re trying to win this year and we’re going to make the right decision relative to who gives us that opportunity.”

Ask any oddsmaker in Las Vegas. These Broncos are a 6-11 record and a last-place finish in the AFC West waiting to happen. So we’re supposed to really believe that 2024 is all about winning for a Denver team that has a less than zero shot of making the playoffs?

Well, like Payton, I have two middle fingers. And I’m shooting double birds to his we’re-all-about-the-Ws bit of balderdash. Payton might be able to fool football neophyte and franchise owner Greg Penner with this coachspeak nonsense, but not smart people like you and me.

The only thing that matters this season to the Broncos is they don’t ruin Nix before he has a chance to grow up and become a quarterback capable of going toe-to-toe with the Kansas City Chiefs, while matching Patrick Mahomes throw-for-throw.

As impossible as that wonderful dream for a football renaissance in Broncos Country might seem, it has zero chance of becoming reality if Payton gives the starting QB gig to Nix before he’s ready for baptism by fire.

Across recent NFL history, the list of franchise-saving quarterbacks that have crashed and burned before they were ready for the starting gig is littered with first-round draft busts. Heck, one of them, Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in the 2021 draft, is here in Denver now, looking hopelessly lost during spring practices, because he drowned drinking from a fire hose in New York with the knucklehead Jets.

While the questions about Nix, who’s undoubtedly a winner, have been about arm strength, inconsistent footwork and how the simplistic, dinky-dunky, run-pass-option offense of the Oregon Ducks will translate to the NFL level, I believe he has all the physical tools to be a competent NFL quarterback.

What will make or break Nix in Denver won’t be his arm or feet. This job is going to be a supreme test on his emotional resolve between the ears. Way back in 2019, as a freshman at Auburn, he led the Tigers to a 48-45 upset of Alabama in a red-hot rivalry that makes the CU Buffs vs the CSU Rams look like a game of croquet.

But taking snaps as a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference was kids’ play compared to what Nix faces now. Payton must decide when his prized rookie is ready to take over the highest-profile job in Denver.

Spoiled by the Hall of Fame greatness of John Elway and Peyton Manning, this dusty old cowtown eats quarterbacks for Sunday brunch. During our current eight-year playoff drought, Case Keenum wanted none of this noise, Drew Lock was too immature to handle the pressure and even Super Bowl champ Russell Wilson didn’t really know what he and his entourage were getting into before Broncomaniacs were ready to ride him out of their sight.

So while there will undoubtedly be a temptation to give the peeps what they want and rush Nix into the starting lineup no later than the home opener against Pittsburgh and our old pal DangeRuss in Week 2, Stidham is here for a reason.

Sparky affords Payton the easy out of telling players in the Denver locker room that his NFL experience gives the Broncos their best chance to win in September.

And what happens when reality bites?

After Stidham gets booed as the sacrificial scapegoat during the first losing streak by this bad Denver team, Nix can be given the job under the least duress possible, when the Broncos have nothing left to lose.

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